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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Divrei Torah

Lessons for Jewish History

Bilam and Balak’s conspiracy to halt the Jewish advance dominates most of Parshat Balak even though the story could easily have been summarized in a few brief verses. Bilam’s prophecies are included, in part, because they provide a template for Jewish history. Bilam’s statements are panoramic and address broader historical

The Three Weeks: It’s Time To Restore Days of Happiness

People get a little down when thinking about the time period of bein hametzarim, the Three Weeks between Shiva Asar B’Tamuz and Tisha B’Av. The halachos of this period set a somber tone, starting with not listening to music and not getting a haircut. The restrictions increase with Rosh Chodesh Av (for Sefardim, the week of

The Torah’s Perfection

My late relative, Rav Avrohom Genechovsky zt”l, shared with me a wonderful insight that speaks to the Torah’s perfection. He referenced the verse we say every Friday night in Eishet Chayil, “gemalto tov velo ra, it is purely good and not bad.” According to the view that it’s referring to Torah, there is an inherent

Fear-based Pessimism

“This is the statute of the Torah...which has no blemish, upon which a yoke has never come” (Bamidbar 19:2). The Mayana shel Torah brings the Chozeh m’Lublin who explains that people who consider themselves as having no faults—no blemishes, have obviously never carried a yoke—meaning the yoke of Hashem’s kingship. For

Receiving Full Credit for Best Learning Efforts

Rav Mordechai Gifter worked very hard to remember the Torah he learned. As he aged, he was stricken with an illness affecting his memory. This troubled him terribly. “How will I be able to answer the questions I’ll be asked by the Heavenly Tribunal when I come to heaven?” he would lament. Rav Gifter went to a specialist and

Making Sense of It All

There are times in life when we struggle to find meaning in the face of tragedy. For example, why do bad people sometimes seem to prosper while good people, otherwise, seem to sometimes suffer? Often, life events defy logic and do not follow the natural, rational course we would typically expect. In this week’s parsha of Chukat

Angry Humans

The Rambam authored a well-known principle known as the “golden mean” or the middle road. Every trait embedded within the human heart can ultimately prove beneficial, but can also prove dangerous in excess. Given the inherent potential and danger within every trait, each quality should be carefully calibrated. For example, a

Torah Thoughts for July 4: Democracy’s Demons

This weekend, as the U.S. celebrates Independence Day, we inevitably reflect upon the dramatic introduction of democracy into the human theater. Democracy and its values revolutionized human experience and terminated thousands of years of suffering, persecution and general inertia of the human condition. Democracy ousted unjust and

A Goal of Peaceful Conflict

Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the chief rabbi of Yerushalayim, and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael in the early 1900s, embodied very different views concerning the Jewish people and the development of the State of Israel. One time, they were both asked to attend a bris. They reached the door of the shul at

Satan Psychology

Among those who tallied along with Korach was an individual by the name of Ohn Ben Pelet. The Da’at Zekeinim tells us that although Ohn Ben Pelet was originally part of Korach’s squad, he nevertheless withdrew from the uprising based on his wife’s advice. His wife confronted him with the following factual argument: regardless

A Covering of Significance

A close friend of mine is the head of an out-of-town yeshiva high school. One day, one of the parents sponsored a “tzitzis project” so the boys could learn to tie their own tzitzis. When the supplies arrived, the tzitzis strings were already attached to the garments! The rosh yeshiva quickly switched gears. The new plan was now

The Panic Button

Moshe launches a reconnaissance mission and expects honest reporting. We can’t possibly conquer this hotly contested country without accurate intel and without truthful information. Yet the story of “the spies” represents the lowest point in Moshe’s career and of the desert saga. What was so notorious about this incident?